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Frequently Asked Quesitons
 

How does mercury occur in the environment?

 

Is any exposure to mercury harmful to people?

 

Where can I find information about current fish consumption advisories?

 

How do people and wildlife become exposed to mercury?

 

Where can I recycle a fluorescent bulb?

 

How should I clean up mercury from a broken fluorescent bulb?

 

Where can I recycle a thermostat?

   

What is South Carolina doing to reduce mercury?

 
         

What can I do to reduce the amount of mercury in the environment?

         

How should I clean up mercury from a broken thermometer?

 
         
EPA Energy Star Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs) Information (pdf)
 

How does mercury occur in the environment?

Mercury is a naturally occurring element that can be found throughout the environment. Human activities, such as burning coal and using mercury to manufacture certain products, have increased the amount of mercury in many parts of the environment including the atmosphere, lakes and streams. People and animals are exposed to mercury by eating organisms that live in places where microbes have converted some of the natural and human mercury to a more toxic form, methylmercury.
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Is any exposure to mercury harmful to people?

High levels of mercury in the bloodstream of unborn babies and young children may harm the developing nervous system. Whether an exposure to mercury will harm a person's health depends on a number of factors. Almost all people have at least trace amounts of mercury in their tissues, reflecting mercury’s widespread presence in the environment. People may be exposed to mercury in any of its forms under different situations. The factors that determine how severe the health effects are from mercury exposure include:
  • the chemical form of mercury - elemental (metallic), inorganic compounds, or organic compounds
  • the dose -- how much
  • the duration of exposure -- how long
  • the route of exposure -- eating, breathing, injecting, touching
  • other chemical exposures
  • the specific characteristics of the person - age, health
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Where can I find information about current fish consumption advisories?

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, in conjunction with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, provides an updated fish consumption guide. Wisit www.scdhec.gov/fish or call the Fish Advisory Hot Line at 1-888-849-7241
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How do people and wildlife become exposed to mercury?

The primary way people in the U.S. are exposed to mercury is by eating fish containing methylmercury.

Mercury in the atmosphere is eventually deposited to the earth's surface, either through dry or wet deposition (rain or snow). When mercury falls from the air or runs off the ground into the water, certain microorganisms in soils and sediments convert some part of it into methylmercury, a highly toxic form of mercury.

Small organisms take up methylmercury as they feed. When animals higher up the food chain eat the smaller ones, they also take in the methylmercury. As this process, (known as bioaccumulation), continues, levels of methylmercury increase up the food chain. Fish that are higher in the food chain, such as sharks and swordfish, have much greater methylmercury concentrations than fish that are lower on the food chain. This is true for both saltwater and freshwater fish. People and fish-eating wildlife become exposed when they eat fish and shellfish that contain methylmercury. There are ways in which people are exposed to other forms of mercury as well.
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Where can I recycle a fluorescent bulb?

Consumers should take advantage of recycling options for fluorescent light bulbs where available. Residents in some communities can recycle them through their local recycling programs. Other local programs may hold single-day collection events. Lowe’s and The Home Depot both offer recycling programs for compact fluorescent bulbs. Visit our Web page for more information.
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How should I clean up a broken fluorescent bulb?

Fluorescent light bulbs contain a small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing. This mercury does not pose a risk when the bulbs are used. When a fluorescent bulb breaks, some of this mercury is released as mercury vapor. The broken bulb can continue to release mercury vapor until it is cleaned up and removed. Visit our Web page to learn how to minimize your exposure to mercury vapor as well as specific clean up and disposal steps.
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Where can I recycle a thermostat?

The Thermostat Recycling Corporation, a program funded by thermostat manufacturers, provides homeowners and others the opportunity to recycle all brands of mercury-containing thermostats at no charge. Find the closest collection location.
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What is South Carolina doing to reduce mercury?

DHEC has initiated the South Carolina Mercury Reduction Strategy. In addition, DHEC is working closely with partners (SC Dental Association, Thermostat Recycling Corporation) toward the reduction of mercury in the state.
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What can I do to reduce the amount of mercury in the environment?

There are many things that you can do.
  • Buy and use products that are mercury-free.
  • Recycle mercury-containing products (e.g., fluorescent bulbs) when possible.
  • If the mercury-containing products cannot be recycled, properly dispose of them.
  • Check to be sure that mercury is removed from appliances that are recycled or accepted for scrap (e.g., mercury switches are found in some chest freezers, washing machines, sump pumps, electric space heaters and clothes irons).
  • Conserve energy at home – which reduces the need for utilities to burn coal.
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How should I clean up a broken thermometer?

Spilled mercury, even small quantities in the home, should be cleaned up properly to prevent people and animals from coming into contact with it or breath its vapors. Visit our Web page to learn specific steps on how to clean up mercury from a broken thermometer.
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